Young battles major health issues

Former YSU lineman tries to inspire more to donate organs

By Joe Scalzo

Over the past eight years, Frank Young was diagnosed with lupus, steroid treatments caused his weight to balloon toward 400 pounds and kidney failure eventually forced him to spend Thanksgiving night in the hospital getting dialysis.

Through all that, Young would think back to something he learned when he was an offensive tackle for Jim Tressel in the mid-1990s.

Life is 10 percent what happens to you, and 90 percent of how you react to it.

“Something Coach Tressel always talked about was pushing yourself further than you think you can go,” said Young, who played for Youngstown State from 1994-96. “You have to realize what you think you can do isn’t in reality what you can do.”

That outlook helped him when he played football. It’s helped him more since.

Eight years ago, Young was a 30-year-old mortgage officer out to dinner with his then-fiancee, Nicole. He woke up feeling nauseous and, thinking it might be food poisoning, waited five days before going to the doctor. The initial verdict was a bad case of E. coli.

Six weeks later, after a battery of tests, including a kidney biopsy, he was diagnosed with SLE Lupus, an autoimmune disease where the body attacks healthy tissue.

He spent six years ingesting pills to curb the decline in his kidney functioning — in his first year, he went from 300 pounds, which was close to his playing weight, to nearly 400 — before his kidneys finally failed in July 2012. Young started on dialysis three times a week, usually from 7:30 p.m. to 4 a.m., before finally convincing his wife to let him do home hemodialysis in April 2013.

“She was reluctant for quite awhile because she was concerned that if we made a mistake, it could kill me, but when I started missing family functions and she saw my demeanor change, it was like, ‘Hey, maybe if we did this at home, it might be a little easier on both of us,’” he said. “We got educated on the process and how the machine works and we haven’t had any issues since.”

The change to home hemodialysis has allowed Young to travel — he can take the machine on airplanes — and has eased some of the side effects. He’s even hoping to run a 5K.

“When I played offensive tackle, I always got razzed by the smaller guys for not being as fit as them,” said Young, who is 6-foot-4 and now weighs about 270 pounds. “After going through all of this, I wanted to make that [a 5K] my goal. I’ve read about other patients running a marathon, so I think I can do it [the 5K].”

Young has been a waiting list for a kidney donation for a little more than a year. The average wait time is three to five years and African Americans are the least likely to receive a kidney from a living organ donor, according to a recent study from the National Kidney Foundation. Young is trying to change that.

“It’s harder to find donors because a lot of African Americans don’t consider organ or tissue donation,” he said. “I try to tell my story so people know the facts about organ donation.

“There’s so many myths. People think if you go in the hospital, they’re going to kill you and take a kidney. And for some people, it’s a religious or spiritual issue. ‘If I’m not whole, what am I going to look like in heaven?’ There’s a lot of misconceptions about it and I just try to share the facts.

“If people see individuals like myself, I think I can alleviate those misconceptions or concerns. Maybe if they see me and hear my story, they might change.”

Young is originally from Lyndhurst and now lives in Highland Hills, where he works as a claims adjuster for Progressive Insurance. Although he transferred to Cincinnati in the spring of 1996 — a knee injury ended his career, but he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology — he keeps in touch with his YSU teammates on Facebook.

Young hasn’t talked to Tressel in several years, but he still feels his impact.

“He was an instrumental figure in my life, shaping me as a man in my early years,” he said. “One of the things I hear all the time in my treatment is there’s definitely a difference with athletes in their perspective and the response to the things they need to do. You learn a lot about life in general and pushing yourself and dealing with adversity.

“Some may look at this [lupus] as a tragic situation, but it’s a reality for me. I can either whine about it and gripe about it and get angry or just try to live life to the fullest with the tools I have.”

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